Do I have to go through full probate?

Written by Jim Worthington on February 3, 2019

Many clients and potential clients call after the death of a loved one and ask if a full probate administration is necessary. The answer depends on how the loved one owned his or her assets. Some general rules follow:

  • Assets with a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts, pass according to that beneficiary designation. 
  • Most jointly-owned assets pass automatically to the survivor. Sometimes, the surviving owner will need to provide the financial institution or business a death certificate to re-title the account in the survivor’s name.
  • Assets held in trust pass according to the terms of the trust. The trustee may need to obtain an Employer or Taxpayer Identification Number (EIN or TIN) from the IRS and establish accounts for the trust. These steps are similar to what one does after being appointed personal representative, but the overall process of setting up a trust is much simpler than a full probate administration.
  • Solely-owned assets, such as a vehicle titled in only the decedent’s name, will require some action by the probate court. There are two possible types of action required, which are both discussed below in this article.

These four rules are illustrated in this flowchart.

If the solely-owned assets’ total value is less than the sum of $15,000.00 plus the funeral expenses, a petition to dispense with administration can transfer title to those assets to whoever paid the funeral expenses, a surviving spouse, or the surviving children if there is no surviving spouse. 

If the solely-owned assets’ total value is greater than the sum of $15,000.00 plus the funeral expenses, a full probate administration will be necessary. For a three-part explanation of what happens in a full probate administration, here are links to Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.